Flight instruments

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Flight instruments are the instruments in the cockpit of an aircraft that provide the pilot with information about the flight situation of that aircraft, such as height, speed and altitude. The flight instruments are of particular use in conditions of poor visibility, such as in cloud, when such information is not available from visual reference outside the aircraft.

The term is sometimes used loosely as a synonym for cockpit instruments as a whole, in which context it can include engine instrument, navigational and communication equipment.


Flight instruments

Most aircraft have these flight instruments:


The altimeter shows the aircraft's altitude above sea-level by measuring the difference between the pressure in a stack of aneroid capsules inside the altimeter and the atmospheric pressure obtained through the static system. It is adjustable for local barometric pressure which must be set correctly to obtain accurate altitude readings. As the aircraft ascends, the capsules expand as the static pressure drops therefore causing the altimeter to indicate a higher altitude. The opposite occurs when descending.

Attitude indicator

The attitude indicator (also known as an artificial horizon) shows the aircraft's attitude relative to the horizon. From this the pilot can tell whether the wings are level and if the aircraft nose is pointing above or below the horizon. This is a primary instrument for instrument flight and is also useful in conditions of poor visibility. Pilots are trained to use other instruments in combination should this instrument or its power fail.

Airspeed indicator

The airspeed indicator shows the aircraft's speed (usually in knots ) relative to the surrounding air. It works by measuring the ram-air pressure in the aircraft's pitot tube. The indicated airspeed must be corrected for air density (which varies with altitude, temperature and humidity) in order to obtain the true airspeed, and for wind conditions in order to obtain the speed over the ground.

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